Toddler refusing to get in the car or pram? Try these tips

You’ve probably experienced the frustration of dealing with a toddler who simply refuses to get into the car or pram. Whether you’re leaving the park, the house, or childcare, it doesn’t seem to matter where or how many distractions, snacks, or incentives you offer.

These meltdowns can be challenging and stressful, but you’re definitely not the only parent to experience them.

This form of resistance is normal, healthy, and actually stems from an innate need for autonomy. Toddlers are beginning to explore their newfound independence, which is important for their development.

The big emotions they experience when we try to put them in the car or pram (or other everyday activities that they were okay with before) are also associated with the transitions we expect little ones to make from one activity to the next, and usually at a pace that is far too quick for them to cope with.

This is a period where you’re going to need patience like you’ve never had before! Try to see life through their eyes and remember that they’re the ones having a hard time, and we need to be their safe place to express whatever feelings they have.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some helpful tips to navigate these challenging moments and make the experience smoother for both you and your little one.

Car seat Refusal or Toddler refusing to get in the pram? Try these tips

Prepare them for the transition

Imagine being whipped away from doing something you love, to being restrained or doing something you don’t like? Give them some warning or cues about what you’re about to do. For example, you can say things like, “We’re going to go on the slide three more times, and then we’re going home”, or “Let’s look for a leaf before we get in the car”.

Empathise and acknowledge their feelings

When your toddler starts resisting getting into the car or pram, it’s crucial to validate their emotions. Let them know that you understand how they feel. Use simple language to express empathy, such as saying, “I know you don’t want to get in the car right now, but we need to go to [destination].” Acknowledging their feelings can help them feel heard and reduce the intensity of the tantrum.

Offer choices and independence

A toddler’s desire for autonomy can manifest into what we think is defiance. Instead of forcing them into the car or pram, try offering them choices. For instance, ask, “Do you want to sit in the car seat by yourself or with my help?” This gives them a sense of control and allows them to make a decision within the boundaries you set. By involving them in the process, you can turn the situation into a positive experience.

Give them responsibilities

Ask them to hold something for you before putting them in the car or pram. It could be the wipes, or something out of your handbag, like your sunglasses case or umbrella. You might let them push the button that unlocks the car before getting in. The more interesting and ‘grown up’, the better.

Give them incentives 

Keep a few small toys or books that are just kept specially for the car or pram, and use them to redirect their attention when they resist getting in. Point out something interesting outside the window or play a fun song they love. This can ease their discomfort and make the transition smoother, but we don’t want to always rely on distractions (think about if you were upset and someone tried to distract you from your emotions with jokes or gifts, rather than listening to you and supporting you through your feelings).

Establish a routine

Toddlers thrive on predictability and routines. Try to establish a consistent pre-car or pre-pram routine that signals it’s time to go. This could involve a brief playtime outside the car, a favourite snack, or a specific ritual. Consistency can help your toddler know what to expect, reducing their anxiety about transitions.

Stay calm and patient

Tantrums and meltdowns can test even the most patient parent, but it’s crucial to remain calm and composed. Responding with anger or frustration might escalate the situation, or create negative associations, making it even harder to get your child into the car or pram. Instead, take a deep breath, and remember that it’s a phase that will eventually pass.

Slow it down

Try to factor in the additional time it takes for your child to make the transition, so that you don’t have to stress about being late (or just accept that you’ll never be on time for anything again!). It might also mean parking further away, and spending some time walking first, exploring, and playing outside the car before encouraging them to get in. For the pram, you could let them have more time walking or pushing it themselves. You’re on your child’s timeframe now, so now is your opportunity to stop and smell the roses more.


Dealing with a toddler’s refusal to get into the car or pram can be an incredibly challenging aspect of parenthood…and who knew they were that strong!

However, by empathising with their feelings, offering choices, offering incentives, establishing routines, and staying patient, you can navigate these moments more effectively.

Remember, this phase is a natural part of their development, and it will pass as they grow and mature. Stay resilient, and soon enough, getting in the car or pram will become a smoother and more pleasant experience for both you and your little one. Guess what? Here’s the kicker: It won’t be long before they don’t want to walk anywhere – they’d actually prefer to go in the car or pram – and they’ll want you to do everything for them again!